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Diets to Treat Cat and Dog Stress

Nutritional, Holistic, and Medical Treatment of Pet Anxiety

By Jesse Feldman. December 14, 2012 | See Comments

  • expert or vet photo
    vet verified

    Dr. Joseph J. Wakshlag, DVM

    Associate Professor of Clinical Nutrition

    Cornell University College of Veterinary Medicine Ithaca, NY

Diets to Treat Cat and Dog Stress

There are many dogs and cats that suffer from stress and anxiety. Dietary changes can sometimes help pets who suffer from this affliction due to separation and environmental changes like moving or introducing a new pet to the home.

Dietary changes can sometimes help pets suffering from anxiety, as can some holistic treatments and medicines.

There are many reasons your pet may be experiencing anxiety. Adopted animals may have previously experienced traumatic abuse. Separation anxiety is the most commonly reported anxiety in dogs. And certain dog breeds are more prone to anxiety than others.

And although they have a reputation for being low maintenance, cats can be very sensitive to changes in their environments—changes like moving or introducing a new pet can be serious stressors. Over the long-term, anxiety can contribute to medical problems, such as cytisis in felines, so it’s important to work with your veterinarian on a treatment plan.

Symptoms of Severe Pet Anxiety

  • Unusual elimination—diarrhea, urinating indoors or outside of the litter box
  • Destruction—excessive chewing, shredding, or scratching behaviors that continue even with increased exercise and playtimes
  • Excessive vocalization—barking or crying
  • Fearful behavior—tail between legs, hiding, panic attacks
  • Excessive grooming—over-licking fur or scratching to the point of discomfort

Your veterinarian will probably first test your pet to be sure there isn’t an underlying physical illness causing the behavior problems. If your pet is otherwise healthy, your vet may recommend working with a Certified Applied Animal Behaviorists (CAAB or ACAAB) or board-certified veterinary behaviorists (ACVB) to plan a treatment course.

Adjusting Diets for Pets with Anxiety

After running blood work, your vet may recommend altering your dog or cat’s dietary plan.

Protein Matters:

For aggressive dogs, it has been suggested that decreasing protein in the diet may change the brain serotonin concentration, and have a calming effect. Many behaviorists will recommend a low protein diet to make your pooch more placid.

A protein found in mother’s milk called alpha casozepine has a soothing effect and may be why puppies tend to become calm and fall asleep after feeding. Recent studies in dogs and preliminary studies in cats with separation anxiety have shown that this natural maternal protein has sedating effects even in adult pets, making it an option for part of the treatment protocol.

Vitamins and Minerals:

Additionally, if your “perked up pet” is not eating a traditional commercial diet, your veterinarian may recommend talking with a board certified veterinary nutritionist to make sure that your pet is getting the needed vitamins and minerals that help with appropriate physiology and mental health.

  • A lack of vitamin A may leave your pet's immune system susceptible to attack and may leave them feeling mentally tired. The right amount of vitamin A will help them keep a healthy mind and body.
  • Vitamin E not only serves as a powerful antioxidant to keep your pet healthy, but it also prevents cognitive decline which can manifest itself as anxious behavoir.
  • Vitamins B1 (Thiamine), B6, and B12 help your pet’s body manufacture the neurotransmitters that generate energy in the brain and help create a balanced mental attitude. They also keep the body’s immune system strong, which is important because stress can weaken the immune system, making your pet more susceptible to disease.

Holistic Anxiety Treatments

Unlike prescription medications, holistic remedies can be used preventatively, to help head off stressed behaviors caused by predictable factors like moving or the introduction of a new pet.

Some pet owners find that aromatherapy can contribute towards a calmer pet. Essential oils like lavender, when diffused in the home (not applied to a pet or ingested), can have soothing properties. Homeopathic drops that are safe to add to your pet’s water dish are also available.

There are several brands of herbal calming collars on the market today, as well as collars that utilize pheromones for their calming effects. Pheromones are chemicals that can influence behavioral changes. Pheromones that mimic the scent of a mother animal, for example, can help with separation anxiety. Feline pheromone sprays can reduce your cat’s spraying and scratching, as well as reduce overall anxiety.

Medications

It’s important that your pet get regular blood tests and physicals while on a prescription medication. Here are some of the most commonly prescribed anti-anxiety medications for pets:

  • Diphenhydramine:

    Diphenhydramine is an antihistamine (the generic form of Benedryl) that is safe to use as a mild sedative for pet transport or motion sickness.
  • Clomipramine:

    Clomipramine (brand name Clomicalm) is an antidepressant that is FDA-approved to treat separation anxiety in dogs. It has also been prescribed by veterinarians for the treatment of aggression, nervousness, and OCD in both cats and dogs (although cats are more likely to display sensitivity to this drug).
  • Fluoxetine:

    Fluoxetine is an antidepressant (the generic version of Prozac) that is safe for dogs and cats suffering from anxiety, obsessive compulsive behaviors, and panic disorders.
  • Amitriptyline:

    Amitriptyline is an antidepressant that helps modify behavioral problems in dogs and cats such as separation anxiety, inappropriate urination, and obsessive-compulsive grooming and scratching.
More on Pet Health

The Causes of Anxiety in Dogs
Food to Treat Kidney Disease in Cats and Dogs
Holistic and Organic Dog Food Diets

This information is for informational purposes only and is not meant as a substitute for the professional advice of, or diagnosis or treatment by, your veterinarian. It has however been reviewed for accuracy by Dr. Joe, a board certified veterinary nutritionist and graduate of Cornell University's program for Veterinary Medicine.

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